Meet Islington’s volunteer of the year: Bereavement counsellor Chatelle Jeram
- Credit: Archant
Chatelle Jeram was crowned ‘volunteer of the year’ at Voluntary Action Islington’s annual awards. Her expertise? Death. Pascale Hughes reports.
Talking about death doesn’t come easy to most people. But for Chatelle Jeram, a counsellor at Islington Bereavement Service, it’s a topic to be embraced.
“There’s such stigma around death,” she says. “People don’t want to think about it. But accepting it as a part of life is incredibly important for our own well-being. A ‘full life’ has to include death.”
Her willingness to start conversations most people scramble to avoid is why she won “volunteer of the year” at Voluntary Action Islington’s annual awards last Wednesday.
Each week, Chatelle spends a few hours with someone grieving in Islington.
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Earlier this year, she helped a 50-year-woman, in despair after her mother’s death, emerge from depression. Together, they sorted through her mother’s possessions, and Chatelle turned something the woman had been dreading and delaying into a celebration of her mother’s life.
“I don’t know what I would have done without Chatelle,” she said.
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A couple of days a week, she works for the Migrants Resource Centre, where she teaches refugees and asylum seekers the computer skills they need to find work. She also works as a meditation teacher.
It’s a long way – literally and metaphorically – from where she was six years ago. Chatelle was working for a large consulting company in Auckland, New Zealand.
“There was a sudden moment,” she says, “a stirring in my side. I realised: ‘This isn’t what I want to be doing, or should be doing.’ I made a decision to make my life about making a difference and helping others.”
It took her to India and Nepal, spending five years teaching in schools, opening a learning centre and developing mindfulness and meditation techniques – which she now uses to help people in Islington. She moved to Hackney last year with her husband.
Soon afterwards, she started working for the bereavement service, run by St Joseph’s Hospice.
As Mayor of Islington Cllr Kat Fletcher said at last week’s award ceremony: “Even though Chatelle has only been a volunteer for around a year, she has made a great impact, truly illustrating what a volunteer can do.”